Paul Greenberg

Tuesday's election returns continue to reverberate: Mitt is now moot, Mike Huckabee is running stronger than ever (for vice-president), and John McCain, now the GOP's presidential nominee-in-waiting, is in trouble. But only with capital-C, talk show Conservatives.

Just go down the list: Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, even El Rushbo himself . . . all sound dismayed, irritated and generally hacked off at Senator McCain's commanding performance on Super Tuesday, which must have seemed like Black Tuesday to the dittoheads of the world.

The Rev. Dr. James Dobson, who long ago was anointed pope of the Religious Right by all-knowing talk radio, has washed his hands of this upstart senator, this loose cannon on the good ship Ideological Conformity, who refuses to meekly recite the Reverend Doctor's political rosary.

That's the trouble with John McCain; he's always been his own man. He just will not go along with the party line, anybody's party line. He's always given his interrogators a hard time, refusing to break no matter what blandishments, punishments or calumnies are applied.

Sure, the man may get things done - like finding a way to get conservative judges confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He may even prefer fixing a system that's broken - like our immigration "system" - rather than just griping about it. And if he's proving right about the war in Iraq or on terror in general, well, that scarcely makes up for his unmitigated independence.

Consider the case of Ann Coulter, certified banshee of the American right. (The uncharitable might say certifiable on the basis of her more operatic performances.) The woman doesn't invite conversation so much as diagnosis. With her unfailing instinct for the outrageous, Ms. Coulter is always topping herself, and maybe has to, in order to keep our attention. Which she certainly does. You just have to watch - the way you find yourself slowing down to stare at a car wreck despite your best instincts.

Watching the Coulter Show, I keep thinking of one of those oh-so-mod Shakespearean dramas staged in contemporary costume and placed in the most jarring of settings - say, the executive suite of a modern Romneyesque corporation - in which Lady Macbeth appears as a bottle blonde in correct business attire text-messaging her latest order to Macbeth, Inc. When the curtain comes up, the sight may be a little jarring, but you keep watching - just to see what wretched excess comes next.

Ms. Coulter doesn't even have to raise her voice to be as grating as Chris Matthews, the only political commentator whose spiel rivals those HEAD-ON commercials for sheer volume. (Though his spiel may lack their intellectual content).

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.